Page Two: Same as It Ever Was
Massacres, mass shootings, lynchings, and other forms of social interaction
America mourned after the largest mass shooting in U.S. history happened in Orlando. Well, at least until the politicking began. Absolutely driven by compassion and horror, the anti-gun people were right there. Right behind them, with much of the same sentiments but very different analysis, were the pro-gun people, who scoffed that this tragedy would have happened even with stricter gun laws.
Then the political fever really set in. In the eyes of the right, the gunman was a pro-ISIS Muslim terrorist who would have killed regardless of gun control. Some blame Islam in general, often leading to a more specific charge laid at President Obama's feet because of his refusal to use the term "radical Islamic terrorism." Even after the president skillfully pointed out how absurd this charge is, some of the Fox-ite Trump crowd insisted that his word choice indicated he was a coward, a Muslim, and a traitor. And according to the left, the problem was easy access to automatic weapons as well as the shooter being repressed and self-hating.
Through it all there was precious little constructive dialogue.
Leftists shared their outrage that it was being called the worst mass shooting in our history, citing the Massacre at Wounded Knee. I'm surprised that none of our more reactionary brethren countered by citing the Battle of Little Bighorn to rebut, as they delight in bringing up apple and orange comparisons when dealing with liberals to indicate they are not just wrong but stupid.
Many have wondered what this country is coming to. Which is pretty much the same place it has always been.
Can we not make the distinction between a solo or pair of shooters killing innocent folks than Army troops carrying out government policy? The hidden history of African-Americans, labor unionists, and immigrants now emerging has made it clear that there were many incidents barely reported and left out of histories.
Much of this anti-black and immigrant violence derived from the same kind of coded language demonizing others that we are now regularly hearing. Historically it wasn't outside terrorists coming here to kill Americans but homegrown hatreds that led to violence.
Here is a very arbitrary survey of just some of these massacres.
In 1873 in Colfax, La., between 60 and 150 black Americans were killed, as well as three whites. As with some of these incidents, these were white Democrats overthrowing mixed-race Republican governments. In Thibodaux, La., at least 30 and likely dozens more striking black sugar-cane workers trying to organize were killed by white mobs in 1887. In 1898, in Wilmington, N.C., a legitimately elected biracial government was overthrown by more than 2,000 armed whites. Between 15 and 60 were killed, with many black neighborhoods burned down. It wasn't just Reconstruction. In 1921 the death toll from race riots in Tulsa, Okla., was staggering. Both whites and blacks were killed with between 30 and 300 murdered and another 500 wounded. The city had one of the country's most prosperous black neighborhoods, which was burned down, its residents fleeing.
(An aside: Good Lord, our right-leaning compadres love the fact that Southern Democrats were often violently racist. They use this to vindicate the worst kind of race baiting by Republicans now. As Lincoln was a Republican, the South long hated that party. This changed after LBJ pushed through civil rights legislation in the mid-Sixties. Johnson knew that he was handing the South to the Republicans for generations to come. But he did it anyway because it was the right thing to do – an idea which is now completely abstract among elected politicians and their more rabid followers regardless of specific political leanings. Southern Dixiecrats rapidly became Southern Republicans. Citing the Democratic Party's racist past as another way of vilifying them is a deliberate act of ignoring history.)
Violence against union members was better recorded but just as vicious. In 1914, 19 striking miners and their families (five men, two women, and 12 children) were killed in Ludlow, Colo., by the National Guard. During the Railroad Strike of 1877, workers attacked and burned railroad buildings, resulting in militias and federal troops killing 100 union members, forcibly ending the strike. A strike against the Pullman Company over reduced wages led to a riot in Chicago, where over 10,000 federal and state troops put down the strike, killing 34 union members. In 1897, scabs brought in to replace striking miners decided to organize themselves near Hazleton, Pa. Several hundred unarmed miners were fired on by an armed sheriff's posse, killing 19 and wounding over 30, most shot in the back.
Anti-immigrant violence was common, though usually the numbers of killed were far less. Anti-Asian immigrant violence swept the West Coast in waves, focusing first on the Chinese and then on Japanese.
In almost every case cited above the violence worked. Mobs were triumphant. No one was brought to justice. Blacks were driven from office and denied the vote. Strikes were broken and, especially in the South, the goal of reinstating white rule succeeded.
The point here is, the kind of violence we just saw in Orlando – targeting a specific group of Americans marginalized and branded by many as "other" – has historical precedents. The drive behind the most pronounced were visions of a "purer" America now shared by those who wish to use random shooters as evidence of a war being waged by Islam on the West. In this time of Trump, cheap ethnic and religious hatred is being peddled as true patriotism.
The problem is that people are people, regardless of race, religion, sexual preference, or ideology. Many of the most fervently anti-Muslim, self-declared patriots share far more with the most crazed of those religious fanatics than with those who know that making this country work is impossibly difficult but absolutely worth the effort. It is just so much easier to blindly hate.